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Looking through smart glass flaws: Performance optimisation

10 Mar 2015  | Tina Dawes

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The rise to popularity of the Internet of Things (IoT) is predicted to persist in the near future. In fact, Cisco forecasts that 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020 and wearable technology is seen to contribute significantly in this growth.

As consumers, we expect wearables to improve our daily experiences and generally make our lives easier and better by unobtrusively and conveniently sensing, analysing, monitoring and tracking. These tiny connected devices are intended to consume very little power while collecting massive amounts of data.

A notable entrant was Google Glass, a higher end wearable technology that can capture videos, browse the Internet and brings an augmented reality component allowing users to interact with the environment around them. Google Glass seemed to be innovative and ahead of its time but from a hardware and software perspective, even these wearables have a long way to go to meet the performance of even the current technology: our smartphones.

With Google's recent decision to halt sales of the current model of Glass and reorganise the Glass team, it's clear Google also saw the need for change.

In order to achieve the performance needed for wearables to in fact be wearable, and be capable of being the next wave in the IoT, significant technological innovation will be required. The companies that are ahead in this innovation, from both technological and IP perspectives, will be the ones to drive success in the near future.

For now, let's put aside the privacy and security concerns related to wearables, of which there are many and instead, we will focus our attention on more tangible factors that permit wearables to be wearable, like: "How long will the battery last?" "Do they get hot when you use them?"

TechInsights and eSoftThings recently looked to benchmark the power and thermal performance of three sets of smart glasses, including Google Glass, Vuzix M100 and AR Glasses by Optinvent. Although the initial objective of the study was to compare the performance results to each other, what really stood out was how the glasses stacked up against the power performance of a smartphone.

Benchmark testing of smart glasses

Experimental arrangement for benchmark testing of smart glasses. (Source: eSoftThings)

Power usage of smart glasses

Power consumption measurements for Google Glass, Vuzix M100 and OptInvent AR1. For comparison (1) a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone in Airplane mode draws 15.3mWh and (2) a Samsung HM1200 Bluetooth headset draws less than 34mWh in a speech call. Note: not all products are capable of all functions.

Test cases as basic as idle mode or airplane mode, showed that some of the glasses were using far more power than the smartphone. This is an important measurement since one of the keys to success for wearable technology is to figure out a way to conserve battery life when the device is not in use. There are a number of contributing factors that could contribute to these smart glasses leaking current while in idle or standby mode: power management algorithms not yet optimised, chipsets and software systems that are just a scaled down version designed for the smartphone but made to fit the wearable device. The main IC below found in Google Glass, where TI's OMAP4430 SoC, which can be found in other midrange smartphones, is used. This SoC is found to be a major contributor of the power draw. Glass may be attempting to imitate a smartphone-like system but due to power inefficiencies, is not able to operate in a similar always-on scenario.

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